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Planet of the Ants

The Hidden Worlds and Extraordinary Lives of Earth's Tiny Conquerors

Shortlisted for the 2022 Helen and Kurt Wolff Translator’s Prize

This sweeping portrait of the world’s uncontested six-legged conquerors will open your eyes to the secret societies thriving right beneath your feet—and shift your perspective on humanity.

Publisher’s note: Planet of the Ants was previously published in hardcover as Empire of Ants.

Ants number in the ten quadrillions, and they have been here since the Jurassic era. Inside an anthill, you’ll find high drama worthy of a royal court; and between colonies, high-stakes geopolitical intrigue is afoot. Just like us, ants grow crops, raise livestock, tend their young and infirm, and make vaccines. And, just like us, ants have a dark side: They wage war, despoil environments, and enslave rivals—but also rebel against their oppressors.

Engineered by nature to fulfill their particular roles, ants flawlessly perform a complex symphony of tasks to sustain their colony—seemingly without a conductor—from fearsome army ants, who stage twelve-hour hunting raids where they devour thousands, to gentle leafcutters cooperatively gardening in their peaceful underground kingdoms.

Acclaimed biologist Susanne Foitzik has traveled the globe to study these master architects of Earth. Joined by journalist Olaf Fritsche, Foitzik invites readers deep into her world—in the field and in the lab. (How do you observe the behavior of ants just millimeters long—or dissect a brain the width of a needle?) With more than sixty photographs and illustrations throughout, Planet of the Ants will inspire new respect for ants as a global superpower—and raise new questions about the very meaning of “civilization.”

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Review quotes
A Main Selection of the Library Science Book Club

“Beautifully illustrated with color photographs, the book offers a view into parallels between seemingly out-of-this-world ant societies and our own, including cities, an intense work ethic, division of labor, intragroup cooperation combined with genocidal outgroup warfare, even a kind of to-the-death national loyalty. The authors’ scientific rigor is matched by their joy in their subjects.”—The Wall Street Journal

Empire of Ants will give you a newfound appreciation for the pint-size civilizations thriving right in your backyard.”Discover Magazine

“Highly informative, beautifully illustrated, and easy-to-read . . . [this] new book explains all you ever wanted to know about these tiny conquerors.”Psychology Today

“Empire of Ants adopts a playful tone, cycling through factoids about the more than 16,000 ant species on Earth with evident glee.”Smithsonian

“Are we the sole rulers of this world? This wonderful book brings our tiny co-rulers alive via an engaging description of ants’ cities, hard work, warfare, royalty, diversity, and ecological impact. These insects may be quite different from us, but their societies are eerily similar.”—Frans de Waal, author of Mama’s Last Hug: Animal Emotions and What They Tell Us About Ourselves and Are We Smart Enough to Know How Smart Animals Are?

“If you ever wanted to travel to an exotic planet filled with strange life forms—you’ve arrived. Every page of Empire of Ants brims with astonishing stories and facts that could never have been invented by a human mind. Ants live with us in an almost parallel universe of small-scale powers that exert major influence on how living things conduct their lives on Earth. The range of sizes, abilities, societies, quirks, and ecological roles that ants have evolved is mind-boggling. And so is this absolutely amazing, beautifully written book.”—Carl Safina, author of Becoming Wild: How Animal Cultures Raise Families, Create Beauty, and Achieve Peace and Beyond Words: What Animals Think and Feel
“Thrilling, compellingly readable, and paradigm-shattering. A gateway to a strange but strangely familiar society—a complex international community, ruled by stern, exotic, resonant, and repercussive stories.”—Charles Foster, author of Being a Beast: Adventures Across the Species Divide

“Empire of Ants provides a great overview of ant life cycles, communication, and colony formation, sprinkled through with really fascinating depictions of some of the weirder species . . . If bugs are your thing (and yes, I know that ants are not technically bugs), it’s worth checking out.”ArsTechnica

“Filled with stories of [the authors’] discoveries, travels, and the problems scientists face when studying such tiny creatures, the book is also filled with colorful photographs of these cute but fierce insects.”—Treehugger

“Both expert and entertaining, Empire of the Ants will leave you in no doubt that these wonderfully strange little animals are among the most impressive of all our fellow creatures.”—David Barrie, author of Supernavigators: Exploring the Wonders of How Animals Find Their Way

“This is a charming tribute to the ‘little creatures that run the world.’ A very personal selection of the many wonders discovered in the world of ants that introduces readers to their fascinating lives.”—Bert Hölldobler, University Professor and Regents' Professor at Arizona State University, behavioral biologist, and coauthor of The Superorganism and Pulitzer Prize–winning The Ants
“Susanne Foitzik and Olaf Fritsche have you enter a whole new universe worthy of a science fiction novel, yet it exists right at your feet.”—Mark W. Moffett, author of The Human Swarm and Adventures Among Ants
“This highly entertaining book makes it clear that Mother Nature has been having a wildly fun time molding these social insects into an abundance of behavioral and physical expression.”—Jonathan Balcombe, author of What a Fish Knows and Super Fly
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Publication date
April 06, 2021